There’s a lot to be said about narrative in football. Heading into this game I was a lot more nervous than I think I should have been. The fact that Everton haven’t won at Anfield since 1999 meant that I had decided that this would be there year. Romelu Lukaku’s strengths target our weaknesses, whilst the lack of both Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana in our midfield left me worrying that the Blues would have the run on us. After all, the derby is, so often, a game won in midfield. The presence of Lucas Leiva as Adam Lallana’s replacement didn’t instil much confidence in me either – I could see more than a few free-kicks given away in silly positions as the game progressed.
Klopp: ‘It is silly not to acknowledge today is special because of who we are playing. The big problem is it is special for Everton as well’
— Andy Kelly (@AndyK_LivNews) April 1, 2017
Now that the 90 minutes has played out in the manner in which it has, I’m delighted to say I couldn’t have been more wrong. Lucas was exceptional, never letting up but also being strong and disciplined in a way that he hasn’t always demonstrated during his career. Lukaku was kept quiet, as I’ll come on to discuss, and we out-classed Everton once more. When they play like they did today it’s easy to see why they haven’t won at our place for eighteen years. Ronald Koeman said before the game that he didn’t know what there was to be scared of about playing at Anfield. Perhaps he knows now?
Cynical Everton Came Not To Play
Like Donald Trump and Brexit, I feel as though I need to add referees to the topics that I can’t talk about for fear of my blood pressure going through the roof. I knew before kick-off that I was going to be frustrated with the man in the middle, such is Anthony Taylor’s genuinely uselessness as a referee. Yet I still couldn’t believe the incompetent display I saw from him today. Ross Barkley shouldn’t have last until the end of the first-half, let alone for the entire ninety. He was allowed to get away with about four or five bookable offences before he almost broke Dejan Lovren’s leg in a tackle that was a straight red even without what had come before it, yet the man who practically lives in the shadow of Old Trafford issued him with just the single yellow for all his fouls.
Really good half from the Reds, which the ref tried to ruin – a drunken stray dog with no eyes could get more calls right than Taylor.
— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) April 1, 2017
I’m going to stray away from aiming my ire at the referee, however, for fear of repeating myself from countless matches that have gone before. I do think that Jürgen Klopp should go for him in the press in the hope that that means we don’t get him for a while, like when Brendan Rodgers questioned the other useless ref from Greater Manchester Lee Mason, but I don’t think the German is that sort of manager. Instead of talking about the referee, I’ll mention the attitude of Everton. There is always a decent amount of banter between the two sets of fans, even if it has turned decidedly sour in recent times, yet the truth is that they are a better football club than their approach to the game today suggests.
When the beat Manchester City 4-0 at Goodison Park earlier this season they did that by exploiting the weaknesses in Pep Guardiola’s system and by out-playing them. They didn’t do it by lashing themselves into dangerous tackles repeatedly and attempting to injure City’s best players. They were cynical today in a way that I think does down their ability. Yes they also had weaknesses to crucial players, but they didn’t need to approach the game in the frankly disgraceful manner that they chose to. Ronald Koeman is a better manager than that and he’s had the Blues playing better football than that.
3-1 to Liverpool in terms of goals, but 3-0 to Everton in terms of dirty tackles.
— John Green (@sportswithjohn) April 1, 2017
I do wonder whether the pressure of not having won a trophy since 1995 and not having left Anfield with all three points since before Ben Woodburn was born continues to take its toll on the mentality of Everton’s players. Regardless of who is in the dugout they seem to get themselves pumped up for these matches in a way that is not conducive to playing good football. They seem to convince themselves that the only way to win against us is to play full-throated, heavy tackling football in spite of the fact that that hasn’t worked for them for nearly two decades. This isn’t meant to be patronising, but I genuinely think it’s a shame that they feel that they have to resort to that sort of nonsense.
Sadio Mané Will Be Missed
Criticism of Liverpool not having an out-and-out striker sometimes feels warranted; especially when we go up against another deep-lying defence and fail to break them down. Yet Sadio Mané is so good that his absence will be felt in the next could of weeks far more potently than Daniel Sturridge’s has been, for example. The Senegal international was meant to be someone who went missing from time to time, who failed to deliver the goods when needed. That’s what Southampton supporters said when we took him away from St. Mary’s in the summer. If that was the player he was then I’m delighted to see that Jürgen Klopp has turned him into a consistently brilliant forward.
Goals scored in matches between the current top seven so far this season:
6 – Sadio Mane
5 – Manchester United.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) April 1, 2017
The former Saints player has had poor games for us, but such is his sheer ability that even when he’s not at his best he still causes defences all sorts of problems. Andrew Beasley, perhaps better known as @basstunedtored on Twitter, posted a stat after the match that said that Liverpool have always gone on to finish in the top four if we’ve had more than 56 points at this stage in the season and that that win put us on 59. If anything is likely to put that record at risk then I would argue that it’s the injury Sadio Mané sustained in today’s game. On the one hand Everton is the last truly difficult game on paper that we’ve got before the season runs its course, but on the other hand Mané is the man that helps us to break down those tightly packed defences that we’ve struggled against in the past.
Criticism of the size of Liverpool’s squad is valid. If I’m honest I’m not entirely sure how much differently we could have done things this summer, considering that Klopp clearly wanted to get rid of the makeweights and dead wood on the outskirts of our team and bringing in more than four or five players at once isn’t normally a constructive way of doing things, but that’s a point for another time. What I would say is that however weak our squad has looked we haven’t had any fortune whatsoever on the injury front. Danny Ings has been out for practically the entire season and he would almost certainly have been preferred ahead of Divock Origi at times, Daniel Sturridge may as well not exist and Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho have all been missing at crucial times and for extended periods.
Yet another injury to a key man. So unlucky this season.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) April 1, 2017
Despite what Ray the Egg (or human-shaped blob as he’s now become) might want to take to Twitter to tell everyone, few if any of the injuries sustained to key players have come about because of the manager’s training methods. Most of them have been impact injuries, injuries suffered because of previous underlying issues or just sheer misfortune such as with Mané’s today. The squad isn’t good enough and will hopefully be fixed in the summer, yet no one could have predicted just how unlucky we would be on the injury front and how deep we’d need our squad to be in order to cope with them all. You can mitigate for some factors, but you can’t deal with all of them.
Players Proving Me Wrong
Before the game I was concerned about Lucas Leiva starting. I was worried that Dejan Lovren hadn’t played for some time and was coming up against a Lukaku who appears to be in brilliant form. I was also worried about whether or not Divock Origi was good enough to be coming on for Mané when the Senegalese international went off injured. I’m delighted to say that I was proven wrong in all three instances. Unlike some football fans on Twitter and in real life, I don’t want to be right. There’s nothing I want more than to get my calls about players completely wrong and I couldn’t be happier that that’s what happened today.
Romelu Lukaku v Klopp’s Liverpool: 3 games, 270 minutes, one off-target shot, one key pass. 4-0 Liverpool, 1-0 Liverpool, 3-1 Liverpool.
— öh yoü beaüty (@natefc) April 1, 2017
One of the biggest criticisms that Everton fans level at their Belgian forward is that he scores against the likes of Hull, West Brom or Stoke but doesn’t do it in the big games. They feel that he racks up good numbers by getting the third or fourth goals in the match rather than the first one. I’m not convinced that’s true, but even if it is it’s odd that Everton don’t also realise that the rest of their team tends to struggle against the top sides in the league. I’ve also written before about how we don’t always give opposition teams the credit they deserve and concentrate on our own side’s flaws instead.
The stats show that Lukaku has managed just one off-target shot against us in three games under Jürgen Klopp. Is that because he doesn’t step up against the big teams, or because we set up in a way that nullifies his threat? Maybe a little of both, but Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip deserve enormous credit for not giving the Belgian a sniff today. Likewise Lukaku’s compatriot, who hasn’t been at his best for us this season I think it’s fair to say, deserves all the plaudits for his calm finish when presented with the ball in front of Joel Robles’ goal. It’s important for your players to stand up in derbies, rather than throw themselves into tackles just to prove a point, and from Coutinho through to Lucas through to Divock Origi, our players were superb today. Eighteen years and counting…